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The Church and Its Mysteries

HAVING CONFESSED her faith in the Tri-hypostatic Deity, the Church confesses her faith in herself, because she acknowledges herself to be the instrument and vessel of divine grace, and acknowledges her works as the works of God, not as the works of the individuals of whom, in her visible manifestation [upon earth], she is composed. In this confession she shows that knowledge concerning her essence and being is likewise a gift of grace, granted from above, and accessible to faith alone and not to reason.

For what would be the need for me to say, “I believe,” if I already knew? Is not faith the evidence of things not seen? But the visible Church is not the visible society of Christians, but the Spirit of God and the grace of the Sacraments living in this society. Wherefore even the visible Church is visible only to the believer; for to the unbeliever a sacrament is only a rite, and the Church merely a Society. The believer, while with the eyes of the body and of reason he sees the Church in her outward manifestations only, by the Spirit takes knowledge of her in her sacraments and prayers and works well pleasing to God. Wherefore he does not confuse her with the society which bears the name of Christians, for not every one that saith, “Lord, Lord,” really belongs to the chosen race and to the seed of Abraham. But the true Christian knows by faith that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church will never disappear from the face of the earth until the last judgment of all creation, that she will remain on earth invisible to fleshly eyes, or to the understanding which is wise according to the flesh, among the visible society of Chris-tians, exactly in the same way as she remains visible to the eye of faith in the Church beyond the grave, but invisible to the bodily eyes. But the Christian also knows, by means of the faith, that the Church upon earth, although it is invisible, is always clothed in a visible form; that there nei-ther was, nor could have been, nor ever will be a time in which the sacraments will be mutilated, holiness will be dried up, or doctrine will be corrupted; and that he is no Christian who cannot say where, from the time of the Apostles themselves, the holy Sacraments have been and are being administered, where doctrine was and is preserved, where prayers were and are being sent up to the throne of grace. The Holy Church confesses and believes that the sheep have never been deprived of their Divine Pastor, and that the Church never could either err for want of understanding — for the understanding of God dwells within her — or submit to false doc-trines for want of courage — for within her dwells the might of the Spirit of God.

Believing in the word of God's promise, which has named all the followers of Christ’s doctrine the friends of Christ and His brethren, and in Him the adopted sons of God, the Holy Church confesses the paths by which it pleases God to lead fallen and dead humanity to reunion in the spirit of grace and life. Wherefore, having made mention of the prophets, the representa-tives of the age of the Old Testament, she confesses Sacraments, through which, in the Church of the New Testament, God sends down His grace upon men, and more especially she con-fesses the Sacrament of Baptism for the remission of sins, as containing within itself the principle of all the others; for through Baptism alone does a man enter into the unity of the Church, which is the custodian of all the rest of the Sacraments.

Confessing one Baptism for the remission of sins, as a Sacrament ordained by Christ Himself for entrance into the Church of the New Testament, the Church does not judge those who have not entered into communion with her through Baptism, for she knows and judges her-self only. God alone knows the hardness of the heart, and He judges the weaknesses of reason according to truth and mercy. Many have been saved and have received inheritance without having received the Sacrament of Baptism with water; for it was instituted only for the Church of the New Testament. He who rejects it rejects the whole Church and the Spirit of God which lives within her; but it was not ordained for man from the beginning, neither was it prescribed to the Church of the Old Testament. For if any one should say that circumcision was the Baptism of the Old Testament, he rejects Baptism for women, for whom there was no circumcision; and what will he say about the Patriarchs from Adam to Abraham, who did not receive the seal of circumcision? And in any case does not he acknowledge that outside the Church of the New Testament the Sacrament of Baptism was not of obligation? If he will say that it was on behalf of the Church of the Old Testament that Christ received Baptism, who will place a limit to the lov-ing-kindness of God, who took upon Himself the sins of the world? Baptism is indeed of obliga-tion; for it alone is the door into the Church of the New Testament, and in Baptism alone does man testify his assent to the redeeming action of grace. Wherefore also in Baptism alone is he saved.

Moreover, we know that in confessing one Baptism, as the beginning of all Sacraments, we do not reject the others; for, believing in the Church, we, together with her, confess Seven Sacraments, namely, Baptism, the Eucharist, Laying on of Hands, Confirmation with Chrism, Marriage, Penance, and Unction of the Sick. There are also many other Sacraments; for every work which is done in faith, love, and hope, is suggested to man by the Spirit of God, and in-vokes the unseen Grace of God. But the Seven Sacraments are in reality not accomplished by any single individual who is worthy of the mercy of God, but by the whole Church in the person of an individual, even though he be unworthy.

Concerning the Sacrament of the Eucharist (Communion) the Holy Church teaches that in it the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is verily accomplished. She does not reject the word 'Transubstantiation'; but she does not assign to it that material meaning which is assigned to it by the teachers of the Churches which have fallen away. The change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is accomplished in the Church and for the Church. If a man receive the consecrated Gifts, or worship them, or think on them with faith, he verily receives, adores, and thinks on the Body and Blood of Christ. If he receive unworthily he verily rejects the Body and Blood of Christ; in any case, in faith or in unbelief, he is sanctified or condemned by the Body and Blood of Christ. But this Sacrament is in the Church and not for the outside world, not for fire, not for irrational creatures, not for corruption, and not for the man who has not heard the law of Christ in the Church itself (we are speaking of the visible Church), to the elect and to the reprobate the Holy Eucharist is not a mere commemoration concerning the mystery of redemption, it is not a presence of spiritual gifts within the bread and wine, it is not merely a spiritual reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, but is His true Body and Blood. Not in spirit alone was Christ pleased to unite Himself with the faithful, but also in Body and in Blood; in order that that union might be complete, and not only spiritual but also corporal. Both nonsensical explanations concerning the relations of the holy Sacrament to ele-ments and irrational creatures (when the Sacrament was instituted for the Church alone), and that spiritual pride which despises body and blood and rejects the corporal union with Christ, are equally opposed to the Church. We shall not rise again without the body, and no spirit, ex-cept the Spirit of God, can be said to be entirely incorporeal. He that despises the body sins through pride of spirit.

Of the Sacrament of Ordination the Holy Church teaches that through it the grace which brings the Sacraments into effect is handed on in succession from the Apostles and from Christ Himself: not as if no Sacrament could be brought to effect otherwise than through Ordination (for every Christian is able through Baptism to open the door of the Church to an infant or a Jew or a heathen), but that Ordination contains within itself all the fullness of grace given by Christ to His Church. And the Church herself, in Communicating to her members the Fullness of spiritual gifts, in the strength of the freedom given her by God, has appointed differences in the grades of Ordination. The Presbyter who performs all the Sacraments except Ordination has one gift, the Bishop who performs Ordination has another; and higher than the gift of the Epis-copate there is nothing. The Sacrament gives to him who receives it this great significance that, even if he be unworthy, yet in performing his Sacramental service his action necessarily pro-ceeds not from himself, but from the whole Church, that is from Christ living within her. If Ordi-nation ceased, all the Sacraments except Baptism would also cease; and the human race would be torn away from grace: for the Church herself would then bear witness that Christ had de-parted from her.

Concerning the Sacrament of Confirmation with Chrism, the Church teaches that in it the gifts of the Holy Ghost are conferred upon the Christian, confirming his faith and inward ho-liness: and this Sacrament is by the will of the Holy Church performed not by Bishops only, but also by Presbyters, although the Chrism itself can only be blessed by a Bishop.

Of the Sacrament of Marriage the Holy Church teaches that the grace of God, which blesses the succession of generations in the temporal existence of the human race and the holy union of man and woman for the organization of the family, is a sacramental gift imposing upon those who receive it a high obligation of mutual love and spiritual holiness, through which that which otherwise is sinful and material is endued with righteousness and purity. Wherefore the great teachers of the Church, the Apostles, recognize the Sacrament of marriage even amongst the heathen: for while they forbid concubinage, they confirm marriage between Christians and heathens; saying that the man is sanctified by the believing wife, and the wife by the believing husband (1 Cor. 7. 14). These words of the Apostle do not mean that; an unbeliever could be saved by his or her union with a believer, but that the marriage is sanctified: for it is not the per-son, but the husband or wife, who is sanctified. One person is not saved through another, but the husband or the wife is sanctified in relation to the marriage itself. And thus marriage is not unclean, even amongst idolaters; but they themselves know not of the grace of God given unto them. The Holy Church through her ordained ministers acknowledges and blesses the union, blessed by God, of husband and wife. Wherefore marriage is not a mere rite but a true Sacra-ment. And it receives its accomplishment in the Holy Church, for in her alone is every holy thing accomplished in its fullness.

Concerning the Sacrament of Penance the Holy Church teaches that without it the spirit of man cannot be cleansed from the bondage of sin and of sinful pride: that he himself cannot remit his own sins (for we have only the power to condemn, not to justify ourselves), and that the Church alone has the power of justifying, for within her lives the fullness of the Spirit of Christ. We know that the first one who entered the Kingdom of Heaven after the Savior was the one who condemned himself and repented (thief) saying on the cross: “We receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). Because of this repentance he received absolution from Him who alone can absolve, and who gave this authority to His Church (John 20:23).

Of the Sacrament of Anointing with consecrated oil [Unction of the Sick] the Holy Church teaches, that in it is perfected the blessing of the whole fight (1 Tim. 4:7) which has been endured by a man in his life upon earth, of all the journey which has been gone through by him in faith and humility, and that in Unction of the Sick the divine verdict itself is pronounced upon man's earthly frame, healing it, when all medicinal means are of no avail, or else permitting death to destroy the corruptible body, which is no longer required for the Church on earth or the mys-terious ways of God.
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